U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Centers Largely on Professor Aditya Bamzai’s Argument

Justices Also Cite Nelson, Prakash in Ortiz v. U.S.
Aditya Bamzai

An artist’s sketch of Associate Professor Aditya Bamzai’s argument at the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Illustration by Art Lien

June 26, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court justices cited a University of Virginia School of Law professor by name 31 times in Ortiz v. U.S., a case that tackled the scope of the Supreme Court’s original and appellate jurisdiction under Article III.

Associate Professor Aditya Bamzai presented oral argument in January as an unprecedented independent amicus and was mentioned frequently in the decision released Friday. Although the court rejected his argument, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for a 7-2 majority, devoted 15 pages of her 25-page opinion to Bamzai’s contention that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

“As I hope readers of today’s decision will agree when they read all the opinions in this case, including a concurrence and dissent, Professor Bamzai provoked some good and hard thinking on all sides,” Kagan said from the bench in delivering the opinion Friday.

UVA Law professors Caleb Nelson and Saikrishna Prakash were also cited. 

“As an obscure — not to mention, pre-tenure — professor, I was grateful, to say the least, that the justices gave two hoots about what I had to say on the subject of Article III,” Bamzai said. “Now that the opinions are out, I’m doubly grateful that my argument drew reactions from three justices I deeply respect and admire.”

Nelson’s 2007 paper “Adjudication in the Political Branches” was cited repeatedly in Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence. Prakash’s 2015 paper “The Sweeping Domestic War Powers of Congress” was cited in Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent.

“I’ve never seen an opinion that cites one person so many times,” Prakash said about Bamzai. “It is extraordinary.”

The case involved challenges to the appointment of various judges who serve on the U.S. Courts of Criminal Appeals for the military services. The challenges were rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, an adjudicating body housed within the executive branch.

Bamzai defended his position in a blog post after Ortiz was decided.

“As with many difficult cases, Ortiz involved two competing legal principles that the Supreme Court had previously articulated and that were, seemingly, in tension with one another,” he wrote. “The principal challenge in the case was how to reconcile the competing principles.”

He argued that “court-like” bodies like the CAAF that are housed within the executive branch cannot be treated as true “judicial” entities under the Constitution. Doing so, he contended, blurs lines between the three branches of government.

“Nevertheless, the same tension between the two legal principles that I have identified above has arisen before and will surely arise again in other contexts — perhaps next time in a case with significant real-world consequences,” he wrote.

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